Trump’s Hardline Immigration Stance Got Him To The White House

Supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program demonstrated in front of the White House on Saturday. PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS / AP

President Trump’s decision to end the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (better known as DACA) seems like a political loser. Polling shows that most Americans support the program, which protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children from deportation, and don’t want participants removed. This includes, in some polls, a plurality of Republicans. That may be why some congressional Republicans have lined up behind a bill that essentially reinstates DACA.

A DACA-like bill could be approved by Congress. But there’s a big force in the way: Anti-immigration sentiment in the Republican Party. DACA may be popular, even among some Republicans, but hardline immigration policy has been growing as an animating force in GOP politics for years. It helped put Trump in the White House.

So looking only at the polling on DACA can be misleading if you’re trying to gauge the chances that the Republican-controlled Congress will replace the program. During policy debates, we sometimes become too focused on individual questions instead of looking at the broader public view. On the issue of gun control, for example, Democrats have liked to point out that background checks have near universal support. Yet, Congress has repeatedly failed to pass a background check bill. Part of the reason: Background checks may poll well, but gun control as a general concept is less popular. Similarly, Republicans tend to poll evenly with Democrats on which party “would do a better job of dealing with” gun policy. In other words, gun policy divides voters along normal partisan lines, making it unlikely that Republicans would be punished for sticking to their position on a specific policy question within that issue.

Immigration is similar to guns in that the Democratic position on many specific immigration policy questions is more popular than the Republican position, but Republicans hold their own on immigration more generally. Much of Trump’s immigration agenda doesn’t poll well: For instance, there isn’t broad support for building a border wall with Mexico, limiting legal immigration or ending DACA. However, recent surveys from George Washington University and Morning Consult found that Democrats and Republicans tend to poll evenly when it comes to which party is trusted more to handle immigration.

By Harry Enten and Perry Bacon Jr. for FIVE THIRTY EIGHT
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